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  • Writer's pictureStacy Holland

Embracing Authenticity: My Journey Beyond Painful Career "Advice"

In our careers we often encounter moments that leave a lasting impact, shaping our professional and personal growth. For me, one of the moments that stung the most was when I received the ‘advice’: “You need to be more like her”.


Professional woman looking thoughtfully out of the window
Calm on the surface, chaos underneath!

This was at a pivotal point in my career journey and triggered all sorts of emotions! Which got me curious. Why?


Leading Digital Transformation


At the time, I was leading the creation of brand-new digital product experiences and architecture across all touchpoints for an industry leading brand and millions of customers. Step changing the company’s growth, brand, and market share.

 

I’d navigated moving countries, understanding a new culture, creating the vision/strategy/plan and secured investment in a market completely new to me. I’d built a multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural team, transforming the team culture and environment.  All within 18 months.

 

This was beyond exciting!  There were times when I felt top of the world. The opportunity felt boundless and the appetite and commitment to invest in digital to maintain a market leading position was exactly the challenge to light me up.

 

Struggles Along the Way


However, navigating changes of this magnitude was not without its difficulties.

 

  • Anyone who has regularly stood as an Executive in a boardroom as the minority in the room putting a case forward for investment will know how nerve wracking that can feel.


  • Anyone who has championed the need for transformation recognizing it’s really about the appetite for change will know how exhilarating yet daunting it can be to challenge the status quo.


  • Anyone who has led in a male-dominated environment (as most of my roles have been over the years) will know the constant battle to assert oneself while navigating implicit biases and stereotypes.


  • Anyone who has had to navigate the cultural complexities of working in an environment that differs from what they know, and where their language is not the first language spoken, will know how difficult it can be to bridge communication and cultural gaps.


  • Any woman around the leadership table, who has moved far away from home and friends and who is the primary earner supporting her family will know how lonely and overwhelming the weight of responsibility can feel along with the struggle to balance personal and professional life.

 

So, during one particularly difficult period, to be told I needed to be like another female leader was a massive blow to my authenticity.  Imposter syndrome, vulnerability, doubt and overwhelm kicked in. This was not what I needed to hear! Even if it was said with good intentions.

 

The Turning Point


This person's opinion played into all the fears I’d already internalised.  It triggered me in so many ways. Not being enough, feeling like a failure and a fraud.  I wanted to pack my bags and go home!

 

I remember thinking “if I have to be like someone else who operates in a way so differently to how I do, then maybe my time here is over”.

 

So I sat with it for a bit and then this happened:

 

  • I got curious, remembered my values and how important it was to me to be authentically myself as a leader. Not just for me but as the role model I wanted to be.


  • I took a step back and looked at just how far I had come, my team and the business since I had joined and felt proud of what I/we had accomplished.


  • I felt the fire in my belly again – I reconnected to why I was there and knew it wasn’t time for me to walk away. I wasn’t done.

 

I knew in that moment I had a choice.  


Triumphs and Collective Transformations

 

I chose me. I chose my team. I chose our mission. I chose to be vulnerable. I chose to not know the answers. I chose to get more curious. I chose to let go of my ego.

 

2 years later we had accomplished the most amazing transformation, which is still going strong today, several years later.  I was able to separate myself from getting too lost in the business rather than on the business and had the most rewarding and enjoyable run in my career.  By embracing who I was I was able to unlock a new level of fulfilment and impact, leaving behind the self-doubt.


Trust Yourself and Lead Authentically

 

If you find yourself in a situation receiving unsolicited advice or feeling tempted to conform, this is your reminder. Feedback is a gift but authenticity is a choice. The best thing about a gift is that you can choose to accept or reject it.  Trust yourself, honour your journey and lead with integrity.

 

The world needs leaders who dare to be themselves, who are authentic and aligned to their values, strengths, and expertise.  Who embrace their uniqueness and know there is enough space for all of us to thrive.  Just as we are.

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